Long Bullets: A History of Road Bowling in Ireland

Fintan Lane, Long Bullets: A History of Road Bowling in Ireland (Cork: Galley Head Press, 2005)

This is a lavishly illustrated book that explores the socio-cultural history of the Irish sport of road bowling. Road bowling is very much associated with County Cork in Ireland: one of its great exponents, Timmy Delaney, is immortalised in the famous Cork anthem, ‘The Boys  of Fairhill’. Part of the social texture of Cork, it is an important element of local culture in many parts of the city and county. The game, however, does not belong to Cork alone; it is also popular in County Armagh, and in pockets of Counties Mayo, Tyrone, Louth, Waterford and Wexford. Road bowling is widely thought of as a sport peculiar to Ireland, but this has not always been the case.

This social history uncovers the rich history of road bowling in Ireland, tracing its roots back hundreds of years, and reveals a sport – orginally known as ‘long bullets’ – that was once widespread in Ireland, Scotland, the north of England and North America. The author argues that the development of sports is a fluid process and that ‘long bullets’ developed local techniques and variations. He suggests that road bowling in Ireland is a remnant of a game that originally emerged in lowland Scotland, and possibily northern England, during the middle ages, spreading to Ireland in the late seventeenth century.

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‘An authoritative study of the game.’ – Irish Times, 8 April 2006.

‘Fintan Lane’s book on bowling is another of one my recommendations for a Cork Christmas stocking…It has a credibility and domain far beyond the Blackash or Dublin Hill, further even than “the roads around Clancool” or Beara, because the book traces the game from its earliest records…It is a delightful book, not only for the sports fan but for the ethnographer and historian.’ – Jimmy Crowley in the Evening Echo, December 2005.

‘This book is a welcome addition to a relatively small library: a book that deals with the history of sport in Ireland from a serious historical perspective…The book provides an interesting study of how meanings and perceptions attached to a recreational activity can change over time…The myth-making of cultural nationalists, who had established bowling as an endangered indigenous pastime, played a role in official tolerance and recognition…In Long Bullets Fintan Lane, whose previous published work explored aspects of working-class political culture, has provided a valuable and interesting insight into the importance of road bowling to the lifestyle of Cork’s, and to a lesser extent Armagh’s, working classes.’ – Tom Hunt in Irish Economic and Social History (2007).